To say Canada’s 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Americans two weeks ago was disappointing would be a massive understatement.
Of more importance than any emotional effects associated with the loss are the ensuing hurdles Canada will now have to clear to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Thanks to an El Salvador win paired with the Canadian defeat, the Central American side have pushed 15 points past Canada in the latest FIFA world rankings, taking over the sixth and final Concacaf “Hex” position in the process.
With Canada eliminated from the Concacaf Nations League by virtue of a superior American goal difference, the opportunities for securing a spot in the Hex are scarce. As of today, Canada is not scheduled to play a friendly or any competitive matches between now and June when the Hex positions will be finalized.
The biggest question Canadian soccer fans are pondering right now is what’s the next move for John Herdman and his staff? Is it all doom and gloom?
Technically, Canada are not eliminated from Hex contention quite yet. By electing to organize friendlies against relatively strong competition, they could hypothetically pick up enough points to overhaul El Salvador once again. Alternatively, scheduling a home and away pair of matches with El Salvador prior to June could ensure picking up points coincides with El Salvador losses.
The issues with this potential solution are plentiful. Canada first and foremost has to convince teams to play friendlies. For El Salvador, their position is a desirable one, therefore convincing them to lay it on the line should prove quite difficult.
Conversely, were Canada able to convince a couple of strong Nations to do battle, say a Wales or Colombia for example, they would indeed have to win these matches. With less points up for grabs in friendlies than competitive fixtures, it would take a few of these upsets for Canada to propel back into the Concacaf top six.
Based on the unlikelihood of either of these scenarios, Canada’s chances for a World Cup bid could come down to the grueling Concacaf qualification process that faces the nations ranked 7th through 35th in the region.
From a round robin/knockout formatted competition, just a singe country will emerge among the 29 teams hoping to qualify. Following that, the winner of the knockout round will face off against the nation that finished fourth in the Hex qualifying process.
The winner of that fixture will simply earn the right to be the Concacaf representative in the FIFA Intercontinental Playoff, another additional qualifying step for the World Cup. From there the chance to finally secure a spot in the World Cup comes down to a home and away tie against a country outside of the Concacaf region.
Ultimately, Canada’s fate remains in their own hands. In a perfect world, a string of upset friendlies between now and next summer has Herdman and co. taking their chances in the Hex. If they fail to do so, the road to Qatar becomes that much more complicated. For now, a place in the 2022 FIFA World Cup remains improbable rather than impossible for Canada.